How spent grains fuel green shoots for circular economy

Manufacturing & Design Category winner: Biasol

An interest in food and the circular economy were key ingredients in the recipe for BiaSol, the business founded by Niamh and Ruairi Dooley last year.

The midlands-based brother and sister also wanted to keep in touch during lockdown, a time when Niamh was at home in Athlone and Ruairi was in Melbourne, unable to get here.

“The business started as a project on Zoom to connect myself and Ruairi. I’m passionate about food and Ruairi has a great business mind, so we put our heads together to try and solve a nutrition problem and a sustainability problem,” explains Niamh.

Niamh has a degree in Food Science and Health from the University of Limerick and most recently worked as a project manager for Bord Bia’s Food Dudes initiative – a primary school program aimed at increasing children’s consumption of fruit and vegetables. Ruairi worked as an IT business analyst in the City of London and for the likes of Melbourne Airport.

Some stark statistics opened their mind to the scale of the business opportunity. “One was that by 2050 we are looking at a population of 9.8 billion on the planet, with a 60 per cent increase in food demand forecast,” says Ruairi.

The second was that 75 per cent of Irish people don’t get enough fiber, “and that one third of the food that is produced goes to waste”, adds Niamh. “We knew we needed to look at this in an innovative way.”

Initially, they thought about cricket farming. Like everyone else in lockdown Ruairi turned to baking banana bread to while away the time. Except he made his using flour made from milled crickets. Watching his flatmates gag when he told them he drew a line under that idea. “The proof was in the pudding, literally,” he says.

Instead, the pair turned their attention to an age-old problem of what to do with “spent grains”, a byproduct of the brewing industry. These are grains that have been soaked as part of the brewing process, to extract their starch, leaving the husk of the grain – where all the goodness resides – intact but redundant.

From desk research they could see that large global brewers had contracts with large animal feed or biomass energy companies who take it away and process it.

But smaller, craft brewers, which have proliferated in Ireland and elsewhere, typically rely on a local farmer coming to take it off their hands. If they can’t find one, or the farmer doesn’t turn up, the spent grains simply go off, and all that goodness end up in landfill.

Brewers spent grain is not just high in fiber but in proteins, B vitamins and minerals too. “It’s called spent, but we end up with the good stuff,” explains Niamh.

“When we realised the amount of nutrition left in brewers spent grains I got on the phone and rang 25 independent craft brewers around Ireland and 90 per cent of them said we can have theirs, while 10 per cent said to come back when we had a business up and running, so the response was overwhelmingly positive,” she adds.

When Ruairi finally made it home from Australia the pair signed up for New Frontiers, a business accelerator program run by Enterprise Ireland, and subsequently won Competitive Start Funding.

That enabled them to give up their jobs and work with people in the food service industry who had the same passion to maximise nutrition and minimise waste as they have, to help develop a range of products.

Their first, Super Milled Grains, can add a nutty, malted or even chocolatey flavor to foods and can be sprinkled on dishes such as granola, porridge or yoghurt, cooked in meals, or baked into recipes for breads and cakes.

“One tablespoon amounts to 10 per cent of your recommended daily amount of fiber,” says Niamh.

Ruairi adds: “We had to develop the manufacturing process ourselves from scratch, because there was no on in Ireland, or the UK, that we could talk too. Only a handful of companies are doing this worldwide.”

Having successfully done that, they moved into a new production facility in October, launched BiaSol commercially in January and are already selling independent health stores and grocers nationwide.

“It’s an exciting time. Even the fact that we are talking about circularity instead of sustainability is an advancement, and circular food systems is definitely a growing space,” says Ruairi.

Super Milled Grains are ticking boxes for consumers too; “80 per cent of consumers want brands to help them live more sustainably”, adds Niamh.

Runner-up: Cubbie Sensory Hub

Sensory support tailored to individual needs

Cubbie Sensory Hub founder David McIntyre.

The Cubbie Sensory Hub is an interactive sensory management system offering individual multisensory care to children who struggle with sensory overload. Cubbie was first imagined when David and Diane McIntyre’s daughter was diagnosed with autism in 2015. After more than four years researching and designing the product was brought to market in late 2019.

The completely Irish-made Cubbie is a self-contained space similar to a large enclosed photo booth that can be put into schools, hospitals and other facilities and programmed with images, sounds and colored lighting to suit the sensory profile of an individual child. Each child’s unique sensory program can be downloaded to other Cubbies which will allow them get the same sensory care in another school, hospital, shop or airport if it has one.

It is wheelchair and hoist accessible, and the child can go there alone or with an appropriately trained adult. A glass panel allows for supervision if the child is on their own. They can sit on a beanbag or in a swinging seat and typically remain there for five to 15 minutes. Some children will go there to be quiet and relax, others will go there to be energized and stimulated.

Apart from comforting the child, the Cubbie also benefits the educational process as its therapeutic impact can help to significantly reduce teaching time lost in dealing with distressed children.

McIntyre explains that sensory rooms are not new, but what makes Cubbie different is its unique cloud-based software which provides centralized oversight of the facility, makes it easy for users to schedule maximum use of the space, and collects data which the overseeing occupational therapist can access remotely and use to make the experience more effective.

Unlike other types of sensory rooms, Cubbie provides highly individualized support and does not require therapist to be present, which is another strong selling point.

Runner-up: SuperWheel System

A sustainable alternative to an electric bike

Simon Chan, who co-founded SuperWheel with Charlie Fegan in 2016.

Simon Chan, who co-founded SuperWheel with Charlie Fegan in 2016.

If you’re sick and tired of being overtaken by people on electric bikes while you persevere with traditional pedal power, help is at hand. A revolutionary new technology developed by Cavan-based SuperWheel provides valuable additional power to the pushbike cyclist and does so by harnessing their own weight.

The SuperWheel system is based on a patented weight-to-energy conversion technology which “transforms the user’s weight to turning power during rotation and provides pedal assistance,” explains Simon Chan, who co-founded the company with Charlie Fegan in 2016.

Chan began dreaming of a bike that would fully utilize human power when he was just 14 years of age. Inspired by the Oldham coupling, a flexible coupling used to connect driving and driven shafts in mechanical power transmission assemblies, designed by Irish engineer John Oldham in the 19th century, Chan set about working on a means of turbocharging a standard bicycle wheel.

The SuperWheel comprises two mechanisms, a set of eight external springs and the internal drive. The action/reaction force caused by the weight of the cyclist compresses the springs in the upper section of the wheel and decompresses those in the lower section. Using the center as a pivot, this converts into additional drive energy and reduces the frictional drag in the opposite direction thereby adding rotational power.

“SuperWheel is the alternative to an electric bike, providing pedal assistance to make cycling easier, faster and more efficient but without a battery or the need for recharging,” says Chan. “With SuperWheel there is no electricity consumption, no range limit, and no electronic waste in future.”

SuperWheel sells its system through licensees and distributors and is already active in the European, north American and the far eastern markets and has local assembly plants in Ireland, France, Canada and Hong Kong. While it was thought that the primary market would be private cyclists, the company has now switched focus to the commercial market in response to the range problems faced by courier companies that use cargo bikes for last-mile deliveries.

Individual buyers can purchase the SuperWheel online.

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